Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
A presentation about being in your body and other peoples
Why is sex work often regarded as different from other means of earning a livelihood? What needs to be done to ensure that sex workers are safe in their practice? What is it like for sex workers trying to access physical and mental health services? What laws regulate sex work? What is the "Swedish model" or "Nordic model" for sex trade legislation and what makes it so controversial? There is a lot of conversation about sex work, but a lot of it seems to exclude the people most invested in it - sex workers themselves. Welcome to the Mystic Hole by Queenie Bon-Bon explores some very important issues around sex work from an insider's perspective.
When you enter the intimate venue, the Parlour Room at Arts House, you're greeted with a vibrant stage set up. There is an elaborately decorated desk, and the performer, Queenie Bon-Bon, also dressed vibrantly, is seated behind it. You take your seat in the audience, expectations set for perhaps a loud, dramatic performance. What follows is surprisingly neither. The performer remains seated as she begins to speak in a soft, dignified voice, telling you deeply personal stories that are meaningful and important, with a touch of humour and pathos.
Bon-Bon has a folder open before her, and she presents from an articulately written script. She begins with stories about physical health, serious stories that invoke genuine concern, but that are crafted with lightness so they also invite a smile. She emphasizes the importance of knowing her own body, and of checking in with herself and trusting what her body is telling her, rather than relying on a certificate from someone else that gives her permission to feel one way or another. She moves on to amusing stories about clients and their inexplicable incompetence when it comes to finding their way around elevators, before moving on to another serious but humorously narrated section about mental health. She talks about the challenges of being reviewed for services by people she describes as "hobgoblins with internet access", and how her colleagues are resilient together and mutually supportive when there is occasionally a negative review. She grows earnest and increasingly animated when she talks about issues that seem to mean the most to her, working conditions and industry regulation (legislative and otherwise). She makes effective use of metaphors to paint pictures that are funny sometimes and distressing at other times.
In terms of content, this show's strength is in that it introduces a lot of topics that not only need to be talked about but need to be talked about by the people who have a direct interest in these matters. Bon-Bon's show blurb has a line that says "Why can't we all be adult about adult industries?" - a point that she makes strongly through one of her interesting stories from her workplace. But this line has a deeper meaning when you think about how many conversations about sex work takes place without actually involving sex workers. Bon-Bon is right - not only are they thinking adults, but they're also the people who are uniquely positioned to best understand their own needs - they're professionals and experts in their field.
From a creative/theatrical perspective, the show left a bit to be desired. There were a number of stories that felt unresolved, and left me wondering "but what happened next? How does this story end?" (which I suppose speaks to Bon-Bon's ability to get her audience invested). The show meandered in a few different directions and set up expectations that didn't quite deliver (the elaborate visual set up on the stage, for instance, didn't seem to have a real purpose in the performance). The show would probably have benefited from a mode of performance that wasn't a straight monologue, delivered sitting down, for an hour. A bit of restructuring/refining could make this show a lot more engaging for the audience.
Overall though, the show is a work with important messages. It should appeal to people with a specific interest in the subject matter, who enjoy engagingly-written lecture-style presentations. Bon-Bon is a pleasant performer who makes you want to listen and leaves an impact with her stories.